Frankie’s Future

As I start to think about my own future, I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means for Frankie’s future and how best to ensure that it’s a happy and safe one.

Because while I’m optimistic that Frankie will be able to cart me around 1.20m, I think that will be about as far as I’m willing to push him. Could he have scope for the 1.25m? Maybe. I know he would try his heart out. But as the jumps go up the courses also get more technical, and I want to be very conscious to not overface him with something that will knock his confidence. He’ll be 12 this year and I want him to have a long and sound career, so we may start backing him off height-wise after this season depending on how things go and how he feels. I’m not committing to that yet, but it’s something we’re constantly monitoring and considering.

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This was set to somewhere between 1.15-1.20m and clearly he wasn’t maxed out. So who knows how high he’ll end up taking me!

At the same time, I do want to compete in the AOs, hopefully up to the 1.30-1.40m height. Not tomorrow, but eventually. Which most likely means means a second horse. I cannot afford two horses. All of which means Frankie will need to earn his own keep.

Selling him is not my first choice (or second or third or fourth…)- he’s absolutely worth his weight in gold and eventually I want to teach my kids how to ride on his steady safe back (FAR IN THE FUTURE SO FAR IN THE FUTURE). He’s such an incredibly special horse and I don’t plan on letting go of him unless it was to a situation where I knew his life would be better than the one I can provide for him.

But leasing him out is on the table- ideally to a tall junior or ammy in the barn who is looking for a safe fun ride in the jumper ring. I’d prefer in-barn just so I could see him and know that he would still be under my trainer’s excellent care, but we do have some trusted contacts in the area that would be options. Trainer and I have discussed this possibility moving forward, and we had an interesting conversation on what type of person would do best with him.

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Darn this kid for getting her own horse, she’s SO GOOD with Frankie and he adores her. Think I can convince her mom to lease a second horse??

She commented that he’s not so good for a nervous rider. I was a little surprised by that, since he’s so so so steady and safe- all things nervous riders are usually reassured by. But she reminded me that Frankie is definitely a kick ride. He’s happy to gallop up to the big fences- but only if you tell him to. If someone is nervous and starts picking at his face, he is more than happy to oblige by coasting to a slower rhythm, at which point he physically can’t make it over the bigger jumps. I can hold his face all I want to package him up, but only if I’m backing it up with a crapton of leg to maintain the power in his stride, and it is definitely a workout. He does best with someone whose first instinct at all times is to KICK JUST KEEP KICKING. He is the epitome of the phrase “the right answer is ALWAYS more leg.”

So if someone wanted to do the Highs with him, it would have to be someone who has strong legs and isn’t a puller. Not because he gets offended by pulling, but because he thinks slowing down is great and would love the excuse. Even at 1m where he’s now super comfortable, he does best with a foot constantly on the gas pedal. He’s never been the type of horse to pull you to the jump.

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This effort was a result of me heartily utilizing some mondo spurs and squeezing until I couldn’t feel my legs. Time to wake up, Francis.

On the flip side, we could probably stick anyone on him to do the lower level jumpers/3′ equitation. Homeboy can hop those fences from a standstill, so it don’t matter if you pull. He’ll pack around the smaller jumps no matter what his rider is doing (ask me how I know, womp womp). So he could potentially be a great match for someone wanting an intro to the jumper ring, even if they are a nervous picker.

These aren’t decisions we have to make right now, as I plan to enjoy the heck out of this show season with him. As always, we’ll keep an eye on him to see what he’s telling us he wants to do, and we’ll adjust accordingly. Things have a way of changing, no matter what the best laid plans may be. Our number one priority at all times is making sure we have a healthy happy Francis! I just love the snot out of this horse.

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Sweetest orange snoot!
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Planning Ahead to Move Up Someday: the Maybe Edition

Just to clarify up front: we are not moving up any time soon. We are in the midst of a lovely season in the Highs and are continuing to work out the kinks and polish it up.

Because let’s be honest, there is PLENTY to work on.

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For example, some day I’ll actually learn how to ride, maybe. PC: A. Frye

But I also like to have a bit of a longer view to what’s coming up, and sat down with my trainer to discuss what our plan is moving forward. The verdict: we have no real verdict, and I’m really excited about it.

What we do have is a series of options depending on how things go throughout the rest of the season. A couple of soft “maybes.”

One maybe: we get to the end of this season in the 1.10m-1.15m classes and decide we need another season in this division. Which would be fun! We could really focus hard on perfecting our rounds at that height, and there are plenty of fun classics and competitions at this height to keep us entertained.

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We can get plenty of cute pics in this division. And yes I’m still sharing this picture forever.

Another maybe: we get to the end of this season and feel really great and comfortable with how we’re going, and decide to try and move up. Which leads to another series of maybes.

In this case we work really hard over the winter to build fitness and accuracy, and very slowly start to try out a 1.20m class here and there- maybe putting my trainer in the irons at first to give him a better ride. Focusing on the ones offered early in the season and early in the week, where the courses are set more simply and forgivingly. And we pay very very close attention and make sure to work closely with our vet to make sure we’re not pushing further than Frankie wants to go- we know that being able to clear a few 1.20m fences does not equal the ability to navigate a full long course at a show. So this potentially leads us to a couple other maybes.

Maybe Frankie and I have built up enough fitness to do a soft entry into the 1.20m classes, and can give the Low A/O division a try. Which I think would be super cool.

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Seeing him fly like this over 1.15m is encouraging. PC: G. Mohan

Or maybe Frankie gives it a try and tells us that he’s not comfortable moving up more- which is also fine. Because that leads to another set of maybes.

Maybe at this point I decide to stay in the Highs with Frankie and come up with new goals within that height range- WIHS, other finals, etc. There are plenty of options!

Or maybe we decide to lease Frankie out to someone looking for a proven 1.15m packer, and use that lease fee to find me a 1.20m lease. Which would mean no A/O division for me, but there are other opportunities to give that height a try- the regional championships that I’m doing offer a 1.20m/1.25m section and they don’t require ownership to compete like they do in the A/Os.

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Have someone else deal with Sir Naps-a-Lot for a year

And because horses like to poop all over the best-laid plans, I am so sure that there are at least 100 other “maybes” that we haven’t even started to consider. Chances are high that we end up with the final option of “none of the above.”

So there you have it: we have no idea what we’re going to be doing long term, but we’re excited to find out. In the meantime we’re going to focus hard on fitness, get our eyes fixed on Regionals, and keep building our partnership for whatever the future might hold!

Ending note: I’m grateful to have a trainer who takes the time to talk about those longer-term goals with honesty and openness. And especially grateful that throughout our whole conversation, she made it abundantly clear that her #1 priority is Frankie’s health and longevity. In a sport where we so often hear about people pushing hard and fast at the expense of the horse, I’m proud to ride with someone who never compromises the horse for the show.

Do you like to plan out your maybes?ย 

Show Prep: Winter Edition

Our first show of the new USEF year is coming up this weekend! It’ll be a lot of firsts for us: our first indoor show, our first time trailering in to a rated show, our first time in the 1.10m division, our first winter show with my trainer.

Up until now, I’ve managed to only show in the warmer spring and summer weather because I used to be a smart woman. Alas, my brain fell out when I bought a horse and I transformed into a big dummy that will say yes to any horse show.

A lot of the prep for this show is the same as the summer shows: cleaning and conditioning all tack, loading the trailer/packing my trunk, polishing my boots, reciting prayers to the god of good distances. You know, the usual stuff. But we do have a few things that are a bit different:

Frankie got a haircut. Homeboy got clipped! Originally we were going to do a blanket clip, but when I lost my everloving mind decided that showing in December would be fun, we went ahead and shaved him all over. I was told he was well-behaved for the torture that is body clipping and he looks SO HANDSOME OMG. So shiny and sleek and pretty!!! I worried that the extra cold air might make him a little *spicy* but let’s be real here. It’s Frankie. His version of spicy is picking up the canter when I ask him to trot, then coming back to trot when he realizes that’s what he supposed to do. Not exactly Secretariat. His tail is in good shape and his mane is neatly pulled, so he officially looks like a fancy shmancy show pony.

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He literally looks exactly like this

Bridle Break-In 101. The birthday fairy sent me (aka Frankie) a BEAUTIFUL new show bridle off my wishlist, then I spent way too long gazing at it lovingly and left the breaking-in part until this weekend. It has been scrubbed, dunked in oil overnight, and tenderly massaged for a few days- I’ll be riding in it every day this week to get it softer. Any tips for getting the reins to soften up faster? I hesitate to oil them because, you know, grip. And yes- I know I should make the switch to rubber reins. But that’s a solution for a later time. In hindsight, I could have planned this better.

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Planning for a long, cold day. We have a junior going in the first classes of the day (Big Eq), and then we’re waiting until literally the last division of the day for the High Adults. Meaning we’ll probs be there around 6am and I’ll be surprised if I’m showing before 3pm. I’m planning to hack Francis around when we get there so I can see the ring (because real talk Frankie doesn’t need to see the ring first. We all know who the neurotic one is in this relationship), then hand-walking him periodically throughout the day. Layers on layers on layers will be the name of the game. And then more layers.

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TURN ME INTO A BEAUTIFUL BURRITO OF BLANKETS

In terms of riding, there’s no final prep work to be done. I will likely make mistakes on course but that’s OK. Our problem-solving skills have come a long way in the last few months and I’m confident that we can safely navigate the courses. Frankie is in great muscle, sound, fit, healthy, and getting more responsive with every ride. We’re ready for the move up!

Any tips for surviving winter shows without dying from frostbite?

 

Moving Sideways and Moving Up

Startlingly enough, I actually have a lot to say about the flatwork we did in our lesson this week. I know, I know, usually it’s “blah blah blah warmup stuff then JUMPS,” so this will be a bit of a departure.

I’ve mentioned lately that Frankie and I have worked a bunch on our shoulder-in. And it’s really come together nicely! He’s already well schooled on it- I just had to learn how to ask properly.

So we decided to switch things up and work on strengthening our leg-yields. We’re pretty solid at coming down the quarter-line and leg yielding out to the wall, so Trainer decided to switch it up and make it hard for us: bring his haunch in off the wall, and then leg-yield diagonally down the long side. As thus:

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Pretend that potato-looking thing is a horse, this is about the limit of my Paint skills.

So the wall is essentially blocking any attempts to evade forward. I set this up getting the counter-bend through the corner, asked his haunch to move over….and Frankie very promptly gave me a BEAUTIFUL shoulder-in (or should I say shoulder-out since it was towards the outside).

Like, he wasn’t confused or anything. He was very pleased that he knew exactly what he was doing. Except Francis, there are other things besides shoulder-in.

We came back to the walk and worked on communicating the whole haunches-in-straighten-your-body-yes-that-means-you-have-to-cross-over-I-know-it’s-hard-but-please thing. It took a few tries, but I could really feel him thinking, and we eventually got some great steps!

So we stepped back up into the trot (this was all done sitting without irons, so I could get a nice deep feel) and tried again. I’ll freely admit that at one point, Frankie bumped his nose into the wall because I wasn’t indicating “sideways” enough and he is such a pure soul that he tried to go forward through a wall for me. Dear sweet boy. But we got some good effort and a couple great steps! This will be a work in progress but I can definitely feel when we get it right.

Side note: all this sitting deep and pushing sideways had the effect of getting Frankie really up into the bridle. It felt great.

We did some regular canter work to get him moving- big circles and such, and he was feeling nice and light on my hand. Trainer had us start developing our counter-canter this week too, which is new for us. The key with Frankie was to keep his stride nice and collected, since he really wanted to dive down and get strung out off balance. He is more than happy to gallop around on the wrong lead- getting him to collect and balance for a true, nice counter-canter was a bit more effort for him.

To work on this we did a fun figure-8 exercise: Pick up the correct lead, then come across the diagonal to change direction while holding the same lead, come around the short end on the counter-lead, then go back across the diagonal to change direction and be on the correct lead. We did this in both directions and it went well! Frankie has a fairly easy change when you ask but it isn’t auto by any stretch. Which honestly, I prefer. This way I can choose exactly which lead I want him to be on no matter which direction we’re going, and can only ask for the change when I really want it.

Trainer and I are thinking that if I qualify for Regionals early enough, Frankie and I might go play in the eq ring once I’m not having to chase points. So we gotta get that counter-canter and lateral work polished up!

Trainer also made a great point- in the winter when we can’t jump as much, lateral work is going to help keep Frankie fit and muscled for his job. I also like this because it’s something I can work hard on between lessons when we’re flatting together.

NOW we can talk about the jumps. But you don’t get a Powerpoint diagram today because that whole Paint diagram thing took all my artistic skill for the day. I’ll recover soon. Probably.

But really, we didn’t do anything crazy course-wise. A couple diagonal jumps, a bending line in four short strides, a one-stride combo then bending out in three strides. Trainer did put the jumps up pretty high once I was warmed up, so that felt great. And I’m not sure what “pretty high” means to be honest- coulda been 3’3″, coulda been 3’6″, coulda been 2’9″ for all I know. They looked bigger than what we usually do so I’m guessing around 3’6″? I’ve learned not to ask.

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Big enough that the Beast had to put in an actual effort to get over it

But I really do prefer the bigger jumps on Francis- when he puts in more effort, I find it a lot easier to keep my leg tight and stay centered. Like his motion pushes me into the right spot.

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Well maybe not the right spot. But a BETTER spot.

We discussed how I need to recover a lot faster after each jump- I tend to take a full stride after landing to recover and that’s like 16′ into a line. Not OK. Trainer wants me to think of standing up in my irons as we land- not sitting back down in the tack, but stretching up. This is the first time in my life that I’m jumping big enough that there’s a “landing phase” instead of just putting feet down so it’s going to be developing muscle memory. I plan to watch a lot of Beezie and McLain to see how they move their bodies on that larger scale.

I’ll wrap up by confessing to you that I’m a liar. I’ve been telling you over and over how we’re on show hiatus for the winter to save money. BUT. BUT. Trainer has some one-day rated shows she’s willing to go to so I can get points for Regionals early in the season before classes get huge. And the one-days are so much cheaper than the week-long ones (obvi). So this will save money in the long run!

We haven’t picked which one (or two or three) we’re going to do, but it looks like the move up to 1.10m is going to be in December or January. I’M SO EXCITED TO JUMP BIG JUMPS WITH THE FRANKFURTER.

What are some fun lateral-work exercises you like to use to keep your horse fit during the winter?

Goals Take Work!

A lot has changed since I got back from Greece a week ago. Obviously we’re making plans which is all well and good, but the big change here is: we’re working HARD to get there. Even harder than before.

Because here’s the deal: I can get away with a decent amount of weakness at 1m. Francis is scopey enough and tall enough that he can get out of trouble with very little assistance from me at that height. Obviously it’s much smoother and cleaner when I ride strongly, but there is a decent margin for rider error.

I cannot get away with weakness at 1.10m and up. My leg MUST be there. My hand MUST be there. I MUST make decisions on course. I will still make mistakes and I will still miss, and Frankie will still be able to make it over, under, or through- but only if I am strong enough to help him out.

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Not relevant, I just really like his tail. It’s purty.

So this month of training is not just to kick-start Frankie’s fitness and ability at the higher heights, it’s also to kick-start my own. As my horse becomes better and better schooled and more responsive, I have to rise to the occasion and give him a ride that supports that training. Luckily, the best way to learn how to ride strongly is to….ride strongly!

So here’s what I’m thinking about:

At the walk- insist on a forward walk with poll high, on the contact. Frankie has a BEAUTIFUL swinging forward walk….when I’m not touching his mouth. As soon as I pick up his face he assumes he should either a) walk very slowly or b) start jigging/trotting. He needs to continue that forward swinging walk while accepting the bit.

At the trot- SHORTEN MY REINS. Gone is the era of a light contact. Now it’s time to feel my horse and have a much quicker way of communicating. Half-halt more strongly with my legs to get him up off his front end and rocking back and up into my hand. Push hard inside leg to straightening outside rein to get straightness and power. He will start out with his nose in the air- that’s ok. Once he realizes I mean it, he drops down and gets to work. Don’t give up the contact. Don’t give up the leg.

At the canter- get in his way. No more half-seating around. Sit and drive with my seatbones and legs, and insist that he push from behind. Develop a more staccato, active canter behind. No overbending around the corners- that outside rein still needs to be there. Dropping down onto my hand does not equal roundness- get that poll higher and pushhhh up into the bridle. STOP WITH THE HALF SEAT. We ain’t doin’ the hunters. We are doing the jumpers and we have to ride like ze Germans. This is what works for Frankie.

Downwards transitions- he must stay light. If he tries to bear down and coast to a stop, we rein back and then try again.

Jumping- quick recovery off every jump. This means auto-release and maintaining a feel over the fence. This also means landing and immediately deciding whether to move up or woah for the add. Either will work as long as I ask ASAP. Get to the close spot- no leaving it out.

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Also not relevant, he’s just super cute.And shiny. And did I mention cute?

And there you have it! We are upping the ante and putting both of us to work. Hence the muscle soreness. I love it.

My lesson this week was really tough since we are striving for more than we did before, but oh so insightful. When I got the right canter, I could actually hear the difference in his footfalls. When I got the right trot, I could extend and collect IMMEDIATELY. When I kept my leg on more strongly, I could adjust my striding in a line and get a much quicker reaction. His responsiveness and adjustability is improving in direct correlation with how strongly and actively I’m riding.

 

HUH WEIRD. IT’S ALMOST LIKE HORSES RESPOND BETTER TO BETTER RIDING. WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT. MIND BLOWN.

What’s a time that you or your trainer decided to up the ante?

Over the Moon

But, like, literally.

To those of you who haven’t seen this on Facebook or Instagram yet (find me on Instagram @hellomylivia! There’s lots of cute pics of Pretty Girl and my roommate’s adorable dog!), check out what we jumped yesterday.

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No seriously, we actually jumped over that! While 3’6″ might not be a big deal to a lot of people, this is the highest I’ve ever jumped in my entire life. Read: THIS IS A HUGE DEAL!!! I don’t usually jump on Mondays, but the assistant trainer (who is one of the best people on earth) had me pop through a small grid while she was there: cavaletti, crossrail, one stride, crossrail. Except every time through she cranked the back fence up a bit until we reached what you see there.

Pretty Girl was perfect! It was such a different sensation: when the jumps are smaller, her front feet are pretty much already on the ground by the time her back feet launch. With this height, there was so much hang time and she really had to crack her back over it. Which in turn cracked my back. I also tended to anticipate and try to jump for her, so I’m definitely going to have to work on that position.

But I did manage to use my automatic release, which made a lot more sense over this height. Now that I’ve started to actually use my muscles instead of flopping around like a salmon trying to spawn, I was able to follow with my hands instead of grabbing mane and reciting Our Father. I think Addy appreciated this: she practically dragged me towards the jumps when I would circle past them. Turns out she really likes the bigger heights! I’ve been boring her with this 2’6″ nonsense.

This was a lot less scary than I thought it would be- I’ve always had a sort of mental block about anything over 3′. Even 3′ seemed a bit overwhelming, and 2’6″ to 2’9″ has been my very comfortable comfort zone.

Now that I’ve seen how much fun she has over this height, there’s no stopping us. We’re still showing in the 2’9″ this weekend, but the move up to 3′ seems like a no-brainer now. And I’m begging and pleading our assistant trainer to come with me to some local jumper shows so I can start moving up there too.

After all, the lowest adult jumper classics I’ve been able to find in the area start at 1.10m (3’7″). And I reeeeally want to wear those white pants I grabbed, so we’ve got to start practicing.

Side note- We’ve picked out a show name for Pretty Girl! Jen from A Year in the Saddle, you’re brilliant. It turns out that your idea was one of the names on Owner Lady’s short list! She will be debuting this weekend as No Regrets.

Any suggestions for maintaining a good position and adjusting to these bigger heights?